What is “Disorderly Conduct”?

Disorderly Conduct is one of the most commonly charged offenses in Wisconsin. That’s in part because it is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, which is really the lowest classification–the lowest level–of criminal behavior in Wisconsin. If a person is charged criminally with just Disorderly Conduct, it means that in the State’s view, the person’s conduct has just crossed the line into the territory of criminal conduct. It’s also probably in part because Disorderly Conduct can be charged as a municipal ordinance violation. If a person is charged with a municipal ordinance violation, that means the State has decided that a person’s conduct may have been unlawful, but not criminal. A municipal ordinance violation is a forfeiture level offense, as opposed to a criminal offense. What’s the difference between a forfeiture violation and a criminal violation? A criminal violation means that a person could be penalized by being put in jail, or put on probation, as well as possibly being made to pay a fine. A monetary fine is also known as a forfeiture. A forfeiture offense is punishable by a forfeiture–being made to pay a fine–but not by jail or probation.

What does it mean to engage in “disorderly conduct”? Good question. There’s an answer to that question, but it’s not a particularly clear one. The statute for Disorderly Conduct, 947.01, says that whoever “in a private or public place, engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance” has committed Disorderly Conduct.

What does that mean? Certainly it may mean that if a person engages in violent or threatening or abusive behavior, but perhaps does not actually hit or hurt or cause pain to another person (which might well constitute the crime of Battery), that he or she has committed Disorderly Conduct. It might mean that if a person is especially drunk and loud and creates a scene that bothers or disturbs others that he or she has committed Disorderly Conduct. But really the statutory definition is so broad and so general that almost anything might theoretically be a Disorderly Conduct. If a police officer encounters a person causing other people trouble, and the person won’t stop the behavior, the police officer might well arrest the troublesome person just to put a stop to the immediate problem.

One circumstance that is very common for Disorderly Conduct to be charged is in domestic situations. It can be charged as a stand alone crime–without additional charges–but it is very common for it to be charged along with Battery (in misdemeanor or felony form), Criminal Damage to Property, Intimidation of a Victim, and a variety of other crimes. Being charged with crimes of domestic violence or domestic abuse carries with it a host of legal concerns in addition to the threat of jail or prison, which we’ve discussed in earlier blog posts.

If you have been arrested or cited (given a ticket) for Disorderly Conduct, you should contact a lawyer. Disorderly Conduct prosecutions can require you to appear in Circuit Court or call for you to appear before a municipal court. If it is a domestic matter, you need to speak to an attorney to clearly understand the potential collateral consequences.